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Feds appeal to highest court to shut down Insite

VANCOUVER - Canada's highest court will hear a federal government appeal of a lower court ruling that allows British Columbia's landmark supervised drug-injection site to stay open.

The Supreme Court of Canada never releases its reasons for granting or rejecting appeals, but federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has said questions of jurisdiction over the Insite clinic must be resolved.

In January, a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling upheld a lower court decision that provinces, not the federal government, have jurisdiction for health care, and therefore services such as the injection site.

But the judgment was not unanimous, opening the door for the high court appeal.

B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon has criticized Ottawa's attempts to shut down Insite, where addicts can inject their own drugs under a nurse's supervision.

"I'm disappointed because this is a program that has received very widespread independent medical journal support for the outcomes and the efforts they are making on a medical basis to treat some of the most difficult addicts you can imagine,'' Falcon said after federal government announced the appeal in February.

Over two dozen studies in various medical journals have hailed Insite as a success story, suggesting it has reduced overdose deaths, HIV and hepatitis rates and crime in the 10-block radius of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the poverty-stricken neighbourhood where the city's intravenous drug users are concentrated.

Last year, the B.C. government spent $2.9 million on Insite, which opened in 2003 under an exemption of Canada's drug laws.

Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS, has said Ottawa should support facilities like Insite in other jurisdictions instead of fighting court battles.

Montaner has said that since Insite opened, there's been a 30-per-cent increase in the number of addicts who enter detox.

The Dr. Peter Centre, a facility for the treatment of HIV and AIDS affiliated with St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, has operated a smaller, lower-profile safe injection facility for eight years.

"Despite a wealth of research and international support, the federal government continues to be opposed to supervised injection services," the centre said in a news release.

Officials said a group of health officials from Kaliningrad, Russia, will at the Dr. Peter Centre Friday to learn about the harm reduction approach.

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